Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Garfield New Orleans Field Trip Report

I am troubled by my dilemma of putting a link to the Investigation report and/or naming the chaperones and their statements to the investigator.  I know these are public documents but it does give me pause.  However, someone already put a link to the report so I will as well.  Report document.  If you do read it, understand that "identifier" means the private school - which we all believe to be Blanchet High School - "student 1" is the male student in question and students 8 and 9 are the girls who were groped.  None of the students nor the male student's mother is named.  All of the chaperones are named.
The Exhibits list I received via public disclosure is a basic list of items.  It does also contain a letter from the attorney for Carol Burton as well as the letter from the attorney for one of the chaperones who refused to speak with the district.

I'm going to cross-reference these items and try to suss out what happened in a separate thread.  Upfront, here's what I think:

I cannot believe some of the actions of some of the chaperones.  The drinking and the seeming lack of curiosity over what the students were doing in each others' rooms is troubling.

I cannot believe that Ms. Burton believed that she could bend district policies to her beliefs (and she did).  That's not her job. She seems to be a great teacher (reflected in student comments to the investigator).

But, Ms. Burton's beliefs seem to have gotten in the way of following policies and yes, I believe if students had known they would be strictly watched and held to policies, there would have been less of a chance that the groping would have happened.

I don't believe she should be terminated for her deeds.  But I also believe she should not go on any more field trips.  Her judgment in the matters around field trips is not good.

The drinking by most of the adults was wrong but it was not the cause of the main issue.  However that does not make what the overwhelming majority of chaperones chose to do the right thing.  (I note that a Garfield parent who was on another trip in December 2014 told me that the chaperones made a conscious decision, as a group, to not drink.  Given this is a district policy that chaperones promise to follow, bravo to those who go on field trips with the attitude of "I'm here for the students, not myself.")

To me, the main issue was actually the lack of oversight about kids going in and out of rooms especially in the evening (and that Ms. Burton allowed the curfew to be midnight instead of the usual 11 pm AND allowed opposite sex students to hang out together in their rooms).  The male student was a problem to be sure and, if it had been known that he has a serious issue with boundaries and appropriate behavior, might not have been allowed on the trip.  BUT, the issue of allowing teenagers - on a field trip, staying at a hotel without mom or dad - to freely be in each others rooms late into the night is something I just don't get.  I like teenagers, I had two of them myself and yet I would never trust a group of teens in that situation.

Which leads me to my next issue - what the girls knew about this boy. Because you see, he had been a problem to them before the trip and they said nothing.  If they had, Ms. Burton might have had an inkling of an issue. 

I am saddened that several girls - before and during the trip - knew this student to be a problem.  Seemingly an annoying problem but an escalating one.  I think when you are young and are flirting or teasing, it may be fun or you aren't even sure how to reaction to the attention.  But when someone puts their hands on you and makes you uncomfortable - over and over - you owe it to yourself and others to report that. It seems that telling this boy, "stop it" did not work, either before or after the trip.

I am not blaming the girls.  This boy has a serious problem.  But in this case, if one person had said something - his mother, the SPS staffer who knew the details of his expulsion, someone at GHS reading the transcript from Blanchet carefully, the girls telling someone about the boy's actions before the trip - then we might not have this issue before us.  (Although Burton if she had known,  she said she would have had to carefully consider allowing him on the trip and, if she did, would have given him more supervision.  The irony there is that she doesn't seem to see that her actual judgment during the trip didn't help matters anyway.)

I cannot believe that district staff - two of them - knew of this student's expulsion from a previous school for nearly the same thing and yet did not enter it into PowerSchools.  The big issue here is that school staff do vet students who go on field trips by looking at their record on PowerSchools for red flags.  GHS staff did do this but there was nothing on PowerSchools about this student's past behavior.

One SPS staff member, for whatever reason, decided her judgment was the only thing that mattered and simply did not record her work about this student and his previous expulsion.  If she had, the school and Ms. Burton would have known of this student's issues. The staff member, according to the Times, is being investigated as well.

I am saddened that the private school had indeed noted on the student's transcript that he had been expelled but it was in such an out-of-the-way place that it got missed by GHS staff (and the investigator holds them blameless).  I would agree; if a student has been expelled from a school, that should be clear to anyone reading the transcript.

The Seattle Times had its own story this morning and got some particularly interesting quotes from Ms. Burton who seems to be pushing her own ideas about her punishment. She thinks she should get a 10-day suspension without pay and give up the stipend for running the GHS choir program.  She has offered not to attend field trips for three years.  (I don't know where she got these numbers or if she received input from the SEA.) As well, Burton worries over a "chilling effect" on field trips if students worry over reporting issues.

There's some irony in that because the report says that the reason the girls didn't report the boy's behavior is because Burton had warned the students - at the beginning of the trip - that bad behavior could endanger field trips.  So was she worried about the students or not having field trips? 

The investigator, Carl Blackstone, was exactly right in his final words of his report (bold mine):

GHS officials are to be commended for greatly improving field trip policies and training, but it does not appear that all members of the Garfield community are getting the message: that GHS and SPS have a zero tolerance for misconduct on field trips. The recent problems on the choir field trip to New Orleans reinforce this conclusion. But more stringent policies do not seem to be what is needed; the current policies are strict. What is needed is a change in culture—among teachers, parents, chaperones, and students— to one that views the policies, not as recommendations, but as a key basis of the bargain struck when rewarded the privilege of attending a field trip.

The most effective way to change this culture is to ensure that swift sanctions will result when the rules are violated. As such, it may well be appropriate for GHS to ban all GHS Choir field trips for a significant period. In imposing this ban, GHS could also announce that any other groups which violate field trip rules would be subject to a similar ban. GHS and SPS are in the best position to determine what sanction or sanctions would best convey to all teachers, chaperones, parents, and students that misconduct on future field trips will result in severe consequences.


Charlie and I had to wince at the "change in culture" phrase as it is one that we have been stating for years ourselves.  The culture in the district has to change.   Policies cannot be choices, enforcement cannot be haphazard and everyone needs to know and believe that.

55 comments:

Po3 said...

I think that sometimes a teacher becomes "beloved" by their students, which results in the teacher becoming the cool friend versus remaining the adult supervisor. The lines become blurred, which is what happened here. The cool teacher let the students bend the student rules and the teacher bent chaperone rules, which help set up the resulting perfect storm.



Anonymous said...

The issue of how the boy's past behavior should have translated into his SPS file--and his subsequent treatment--is interesting to me. Is there an SPS policy on that? While I understand the desire to use whatever information we have about a child's past to help inform future dealings, it also troubles me somewhat to think that past allegations from one school should follow a student for years, resulting in future punishments (e.g., being banned from SPS field trips). If you are accused of something at one school, should you continue to be punished for it at another? For how long? Does it matter if the charges were proven, or are allegations enough? After all, private school expulsion is not, in itself, evidence of guilt.

So what is SPS supposed to do in cases like that? School records say the student was initially suspended for alleged inappropriate advances toward one male student, but the student denies there was inappropriate touching. The student was ultimately suspended for violating his probation by making "inappropriate comments" that made some students uncomfortable, and not making his electronic devices available for search during the investigation. The inappropriate comments that made others uncomfortable were deemed sexual harassment and he was expelled. Does that alone really make him a sexual predator, as some have called him? Even if he admitted to that sexual harassment--but did he?--does that mean he should have be labeled a risk from here on out, even if his doctor said it was a medication-related issue not expected to reoccur? Or should this have been interpreted as a youthful indiscretion that warranted a fresh start at a new school? I think the case could be made for either.

And could Garfield really have rejected him as a student based on the past allegations? We have students with official criminal records, so I find it hard to believe that unproven allegations from peers are enough to keep a student out of a public school.

HF

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a list of the good news:

It appears that the staff at Garfield followed the policy and procedures for responding to a report of sexual harassment.

It also appears that the District only discovered the violations of field trip rules through the investigation of the sexual harassment report. So the District doesn't just investigate reports of policy or procedures violations capriciously.

The investigator laid the blame on the culture of lawlessness and put the superintendent on the spot to address it.

The sexual harassment described in the report was more irritating than violent. Smaller crimes are less bad than bigger crimes.

I don't think we will see cavalier violations of field trip rules for a while.

Chris S. said...

HF, I think you know the answer. Neither SPS nor Garfield can turn anybody away. And the choice between "labeled a risk from here on out" and nobody knowing anything is a false dichotomy. As the teacher said on TV, he could have had discreet support that would have helped him "make a clean start." Instead, this.

I do not agree drinking-defenders on the other thread. If you want the district to follow policies, set a good example. If you want your kids to behave responsibly, set a good example. If you want to model responsible drinking, great, do it at home.

I chaperoned an overnight elementary trip recently, with Naturebridge keenly on my mind. I would have loved a drink in that situation, but I read what I signed and went with it. It was still a little scary because it is hard to keep track of kids who may not want to follow the rules, and you know what the consequences can be

Finally, to counter the loosening apron-strings in high school argument, unfortunately for girls (and I guess boys too) the risk of sexual assault is increasing at this age. ABsolutely we should be talking about it, but at the same time I think the goal of keeping school-sponsored activities as safe as possible is a good one.

Finally, overnight field trips are a privilege. My high-schooler has had none since elementary school (and hardly any field trips at all, sadly.) All this teeth-gnashing about that seems a little overdone.

Anonymous said...

Does the terms "personal accountability" resonate with anyone?

There are always mistakes made and errors in judgment but that report goes into detail that there is no one left unscathed in this mess.

Frankly I do wonder about Garfield and the culture there over all.. the Steve Harvey thing, the field trips, the Teacher who had sex with kids a few years ago, the football tutors, the endless scandal after scandal makes one scratch their heads at this.

There is a culture of exceptionalism that seems rampant at that school. Glad my kid is not going there.

- Head Scratcher

Anonymous said...

They probably should pay all teachers who go on a field trip after hours a small stipend, that way their role of being on the clock is clearer. Teachers have rights in their other role as a normal citizen. Can a teacher post a picture on facebook drinking a glass of wine? Can teachers have unopened booze in their car in a school parking lot? Can a teacher go to view a school concert as a spectator after having a glass of wine or two with dinner?

-NNNCr

Anonymous said...

That is a strawman argument NNNCr.. as you need to look at the actual RCW codes about Teaching and what you can be terminated for.. here they are the acts of unprofessional conduct..

Marijuana legal? Yes have a medical reason also legal. Can you be fired for it? Yes you can.

Morality codes are right there..

WAC 181-87-020
Agency filings affecting this section
Applicability of chapter to private conduct.
As a general rule, the provisions of this chapter shall not be applicable to the private conduct of an education practitioner except where the education practitioner's role as a private person is not clearly distinguishable from the role as an education practitioner and the fulfillment of professional obligations.

WAC 181-87-055
Agency filings affecting this section
Alcohol or controlled substance abuse.
Unprofessional conduct includes:
(1) Being under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or of a controlled substance, as defined in chapter 69.50 RCW, on school premises or at a school-sponsored activity involving students, following:

(2) The possession, use, or consumption on school premises or at a school sponsored activity of a Schedule 1 controlled substance, as defined by the state pharmacy quality assurance commission, or a Schedule 2 controlled substance, as defined by the state pharmacy quality assurance commission, without a prescription authorizing such use.
(3) The consumption of an alcoholic beverage on school premises or at a school sponsored activity involving students if such consumption is contrary to written policy of the school district or school building.
(4) The possession of marijuana or marijuana-infused product on school premises or at a school sponsored activity involving students if such possession violates Washington law or is contrary to written policy of the school district or school building.
(5) The use or consumption of marijuana or marijuana-infused product on school premises or at a school sponsored activity.

Misrepresentation or falsification in the course of professional practice.
Any falsification or deliberate misrepresentation, including omission, of a material fact by an education practitioner concerning any of the following is an act of unprofessional conduct:g:
(a) Good moral character or personal fitness.
(b) Acts of unprofessional conduct.

These are vague easily interpreted to suit the individual looking for whatever reason. Got into fight with your wife police summoned, domestic violence charges.. see ya.

Got into a car were not dangerous yet had a glass of wine yet below the legal limit of ..08 your job is on the line.

Dated someone had a bad encounter led to some confusion was not rape but now on a sex offender registry for life.

These are three crimes that have nothing to do with teaching they are morality personal issues and well you will be out of a job and license regardless of when these occurred as NONE Of them can ever be expunged from your record..ever...

This woman if one looks at the RCW is out of a job and she is not repentant enough for the pearl clutching, helicopter parenting set.

- Sorry But Wrong

mirmac1 said...

Transfer of Education Records

FERPA permits school officials to disclose any and all education records, including disciplinary records, to another institution at which the student seeks or intends to enroll. While student consent is not required for transferring education records, the institution's annual FERPA notification should indicate that such disclosures are made. In the absence of information about disclosures in the annual FERPA notification, school officials must make a reasonable attempt to notify the student about the disclosure, unless the student initiates the disclosure. Additionally, upon request, the institution must provide a copy of the information disclosed and an opportunity for a hearing. See 34 CFR § 99.31(a)(2) and § 99.34(a).

mirmac1 said...

I recall a discussion recently when it was stated that special education student disciplinary records were ALWAYS sent to their new school. Know that SPS uses discipline very inappropriately with students with disabilities, particularly when the behavior is a direct result of their disabilites (meltdown, bullying self-defense, noncompliant behavior) Talk about getting labeled as soon as you rise into a new school.

mirmac1 said...

Questions from Enrollment application form:

Was student suspended or expelled from this school?

Has student been suspended or expelled from any school? If Yes explain.

Does the student have any pending disciplinary actions; history of violent or disruptive behavior; past, current, or pending criminal or juvenile court proceedings; or history of gang affiliation?


Why ask the question if district staff ignores the answers?

Charlie Mas said...

Ms Burton exercised her judgement, in opposition to the stated procedures, and people want to excuse her actions.

Ms Miller exercised her judgement, in opposition to the stated procedures, and people want to run her out of town. I have yet to hear a call for mercy for her as I have for Ms Burton.

The situations are fairly analogous. The difference is that people know and have met Ms Burton, they look after kids, and they drink moderately themselves, so they want to cut her some slack. They don't know Ms Miller and they have never done her job or made the decisions she has to make, so they want cut her throat.

The analogy breaks down when you read the policy and the WAC. It is Ms Burton who committed the bigger mistake, in part because she was not granted any flexibility in how she did her work - the field trip rules were clear - and penalties equally clear. It's unclear if Ms Miller is expected to exercise professional judgement in her work, but it appears that she is.

I'm still waiting for the marches to save Ms Miller's job. I still waiting for people to defend her choices or diminish it as one incident in a career of caring for children.

Where's that person who quoted from Merchant of Venice when it's Ms Miller's turn in the sights?

Anonymous said...

Ms Burton exercised her judgement, in opposition to the stated procedures, and people want to excuse her actions.

Ms Miller exercised her judgement, in opposition to the stated procedures, and people want to run her out of town. I have yet to hear a call for mercy for her as I have for Ms Burton.

The situations are fairly analogous. The difference is that people know and have met Ms Burton, they look after kids, and they drink moderately themselves, so they want to cut her some slack. They don't know Ms Miller and they have never done her job or made the decisions she has to make, so they want cut her throat.

Exactly, Charlie--well almost. Is there actually any evidence that Ms. Miller's actions were in opposition to the stated procedures? She clearly DID investigate the situation, talking to the private school, the parent, multiple doctors, etc. She relied on her professional judgement to determine that the student should be able to transfer without restrictions. Now we can debate whether that was a good decision or not, but presumably she had more evidence than us--although we sure do benefit from hindsight. In any case, once she made her determination that the student could enter SPS without restrictions, it seems to me it would have been inappropriate for her to notify GHS staff and provide them with documents detailing the past alleged incidents. Should the expulsion have been noted? Yes--and there may be protocols around that. But the details? Probably not, if the investigation had determined restrictions were not warranted. After all, the point of providing those documents would have been so that additional restrictions or oversight COULD be provided, when she had determined they weren't necessary. For the investigator to say that she should have provided that information even after making the determination she did, well that just doesn't make sense.

I don't know this woman, but it seems she is the one being thrown under the bus.

HF

Anonymous said...

Charlie--

What do you think the punishment should be?

Just Curious

Anonymous said...

Do I think Ms. Carol Burton should be fired?
She should be retained --and disciplined --if this is the only problem in her record.


--Old School Music

Anonymous said...

More specifically, what is the right decision under the standard set by District Disciplinary Policy # 5281:

"Discipline shall be reasonably appropriate to the circumstances and may include suspension or discharge."

-What's Reasonable?

Anonymous said...

Charlie
your quote: "Ms Miller exercised her judgement, in opposition to the stated procedures, and people want to run her out of town. I have yet to hear a call for mercy for her as I have for Ms Burton.

The situations are fairly analogous. The difference is that people know and have met Ms Burton, they look after kids, and they drink moderately themselves, so they want to cut her some slack. They don't know Ms Miller and they have never done her job or made the decisions she has to make, so they want cut her throat."

I may have missed it, but the first time I saw the SPS person's name was in your post. I haven't seen any postings trying to "run her out of town".
NEmom

mirmac1 said...

Here are district enrollment procedures, provided me 12/14:

Suspended or Expelled From Another District

Sanctioned Students Enrollment Process

I'd say Miller's transgression is more consequential than Burton's. It's like someone removing a dead end sign by a cliff, versus someone driving over the speed limit on that road.

Let me guess, no readers here drive over the speed limit.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you nailed it.

Southeast Mom

cmj said...

Chaperones should not be paying anything more than a nominal fee to go on field trips (like gas money to drive kids to the local museum). They're not going on vacation -- they're doing a job. The chaperones on the New Orleans trip were paying $1800 for the trip. I'm not saying that this excuses their behavior, but you're not going to see a lot of people volunteering to chaperone trips if they have to take off time from work (if they work), pay their way, and take their duties seriously.

If students are worried about their favorite teachers being fired, they're less likely to report misconduct by other students. The girls in the New Orleans incident didn't tell their teacher because they knew Garfield field trips were already on thin ice and they didn't want to get their teacher in trouble.

Students worried about their favorite teachers being fired are also more likely -- potentially -- to be less honest when they're interviewed. The next time that something like this happens, the kids might get together via texting or Facebook to concoct a believable story that doesn't impugn their teachers before they're interviewed by the investigator. I very much hope that wouldn't happen, but I do see it as a possibility.

How should this affect the way the Ms. Burton is disciplined? I don't know, but I think that we should bear potential consequences of whatever discipline -- whether harsh or lenient -- is chosen on the school's community.

Garfield's assertion that they might not have admitted the boy if they'd known about his misconduct is a bit ridiculous. It's a public school. Some students have problems, but writing them off doesn't lend itself to rehabilitation. Should he have been allowed on an overnight field trip at a school where overnight field trips were already on thin ice? Goodness, no.

Anonymous said...

One other point supporting Charlie's analysis was made earlier by HF, who highlights some of what Ms. Miller had to suss out in this instance:

"So what is SPS supposed to do in cases like that? School records say the student was initially suspended for alleged inappropriate advances toward one male student, but the student denies there was inappropriate touching. The student was ultimately suspended for violating his probation by making "inappropriate comments" that made some students uncomfortable, and not making his electronic devices available for search during the investigation. The inappropriate comments that made others uncomfortable were deemed sexual harassment and he was expelled. Does that alone really make him a sexual predator, as some have called him? Even if he admitted to that sexual harassment--but did he?--does that mean he should have be labeled a risk from here on out, even if his doctor said it was a medication-related issue not expected to reoccur? Or should this have been interpreted as a youthful indiscretion that warranted a fresh start at a new school? I think the case could be made for either. "

Also, the mother of the boy referred to the experience at his prior school as being filled with "shame," and the doctor reported that the student was unlikely to repeat the behavior. Ms. Miller combined all the information she had to make a call as to whether this student should carry a highly charged label that his Catholic high school applied to him for, initially, making advances toward members of his own sex and having "sexual orientation pictures" (?) on his mobile device. Even if Ms. Miller's judgement was wrong, it was not without basis in an extremely nuanced and difficult landscape that most of us never have to navigate. I very much hope she will not wind up under the bus.

Southeast Mom

Anonymous said...

Hey Charlie,

I quoted Merchant of Venice. It seems on the surface that Ms. Miller had one screw up. If so mercy should be granted in the form of no termination.

Ms. Burton failed to follow policy often over several years. I still think termination harms her students and is not appropriate.

Having watched the crazy duplicity of several in the Central Office including Maria Goodlow Johnson, Michael Tolley, Ron English, Susan Enfield, and a few school directors, I find termination of Burton or Miller excessively harsh.

Nyland has had a policy whiff as well.

-- Dan Dempsey

ChoirMom said...

Ms Miller exercised her judgement, in opposition to the stated procedures, and people want to run her out of town. I have yet to hear a call for mercy for her as I have for Ms Burton.

The situations are fairly analogous. The difference is that people know and have met Ms Burton, they look after kids, and they drink moderately themselves, so they want to cut her some slack. They don't know Ms Miller and they have never done her job or made the decisions she has to make, so they want cut her throat.

I'm still waiting for the marches to save Ms Miller's job. I still waiting for people to defend her choices or diminish it as one incident in a career of caring for children.


Same BS as what you claimed in the other post. First you claim "everyone seems to be sharpening their knives for Ms. Miller" with no evidence of any such thing, now you accuse people of wanting to "run her out of town" and "cut her throat." Where? Where are you seeing this? I'm looking all around and I see nothing like this. Cut and paste the comments you see that constitute metaphorical knife sharpening and throat cutting toward Ms. Miller. No one else has even brought up her name.

Why don't you tell us about Ms. Miller, what her job is like, what kind of decisions she has to make, how long she's been with the district, her impact on children, etc., so we can get to know something about her? What is likely to happen to her? What are the policies that apply to what she did or did not do? Where is the district transparency on their policies and procedures for investigating and disciplining her? What is the core issue there, Charlie?

As I said to you on the other thread, I'd like to advocate for her too if it looks like she's being railroaded. Help us understand her case. Is she facing termination? Are there mitigating circumstances? Does she have a clean record otherwise? Defend her, Charlie! Be her white knight! Why wait for someone else to be the first to be her champion or show her mercy? Lead the way!

I may have missed it, but the first time I saw the SPS person's name was in your post. I haven't seen any postings trying to "run her out of town".
NEmom

Indeed, NEmom

Anonymous said...

Charlie is always bemoaning the "culture of lawlessness". Ok. We accept it. It's a lawless culture. Do we want to change it? What law do we start with? The law to start enforcing is NOT - teacher had 2.5 drinks over 5 days in New Orleans. It's a coincidence that this "rule breaking" ever even showed up on any radar. When they start enforcing policies like "don't sign any quarter million dollar contracts without first getting board approval", then we can talk about the small potatoes. The teacher did nothing wrong. Her actions had 0 negative impact on any student. And, nobody has called for Miller's head either. Her oversight actually has more of a negative impact than anything Burton did. Furthermore - there's absolutely no way to enforce any conduct on chaperones. Sorry. That total bull. What are you going to do to chaperones? Fire them? Send them home? It's still a free country and you can't fire people you didn't hire. Duh! Burton hit the nail on the head when she said she felt uncomfortable "correcting" parents who had paid $1800 to go on the trip. And, she's exactly right. There's nothing she could really do about that. Why moan about sacred rules that are utterly unenforceable from the beginning? Dumb.

And right - the girls who actually are victims of unwanted sexual advances - now surely feel terrible about subjecting their teacher to this unwanted, newfound, selective legal Puritanism in SPS.

Reader

Anonymous said...

Yow, "safety plan." That kid has had several chances already.

Interestingly, googling "medication for inappropriate behavior" reveals that many psychoactive drugs can reduce sexually inappropriate behavior in elderly patients with dementia. Put in "youth" and you get stuff about inappropriately medication kids with behavior problems.

Chris S.

Anonymous said...

After reading the report, I really don't think Garfield choir should be highlighting how far "above" the threshold they were on the required number of chaperones for the trip. I can only imagine trying to manage these parents. Almost seems like they paid $1800 and expected to treat it like their personal vacation. Was it better for the kids that there were so many of them, or worse? Who cares if one gets drunk, we have two more to walk her back to her room? If the chaperones are watching and entertaining each other, it's easy to see that the kids might feel a little bit overly "relaxed." And it's more strain on Ms. Burton to manage all of the entitled adults.


kc

Patrick said...

Ironically, the groping victims thought they were sparing their teacher by not reporting it. If they had reported the multiple incidents on Day 1, a couple of things could have happened: they could have send the groper home on Day 2, or they could have put the groper next to a male chaperone for the rest of the trip. Either would have come out looking a whole lot better, not to mention better for the victims.

Even though teacher and chaperones drinking wasn't the immediate cause of the groping incidents, drinking and being seen to drink by the students contributed to an atmosphere of disregard for rules of conduct and disregard for giving one's word. By drinking along with the chaperones, the teacher was giving her approval. She was the trip leader; she sets the tone.

mirmac1 said...

C'mon, these students are teens. My own child was afraid to report she was abandoned by her group on a field trip because...she thought she would get in trouble. Kids don't get who should get blame or who's in the right. Crap, we can't even do that on this blog!

Patrick, I don't agree. Just because I see a shoplifter doesn't suddenly make me think I want to shoplift too. A troubled youth with abusive tendencies is not going to take his cue from a teacher's trust or drink at dinner.

I'm surprised no one sees that there is a prescribed process for dealing with students expelled from other districts (or private). There is no automatic placement at an assignment school. Transcript fine print or not, the parent was to identify a student's history on the enrollment form. If an enrollment staffer figured no big deal, well that is the proximate cause here. Is it time for a new Policy that says "we really mean it re: expelled students so we don't get sued"? Or is all this schizz unrelated and not the crux of the assault and harm done these girls.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Why ask the question if district staff ignores the answers?"

Staff didn't ignore the answers. But the person who was checking decided that her judgment was enough and did not notify anyone nor enter any information into PowerSchools.

I guess I would have to know what was the scope of her job for her to make the decision that not only was the student good to go but that no one else needed to know anything about his past behavior. To note, she was assigned the duty of Title IX Compliance Official for Student Matters in Oct 2014.

Look, Ms Burton represented the school and the district to these parents. She didn't have to be aggressive - she could have said, "District policy does not allow any of us to drink while we are here. I know this is sometimes a tough job but I have to set the example so I won't be drinking tonight." Period. The parents can take their cue from that BUT she didn't do that.

And she extended the time for the curfew.

And she allowed kids of opposite sexes to freely be in each others' rooms.

So it appears to me that she doesn't like to have to be in a leadership/management role.

As for the "drunk" parent, I don't know what to think. She's a medical doctor who took a pain pill and then had multiple drinks. I'm not sure what she expected to happen. I don't think she was drunk - she had an interaction between drugs. But you would think she might have known better.

Patrick, I think the kids may have thought that someone had to tell Ms. Burton (at long last given how long this boy had been acting out in a sexually aggressive manner). BUT they did not realize that she, as a teacher, is in a first-responder role and HAD to report what had been reported to her.

But yes, I wish they had told someone sooner.

I agree with all who say that Ms. Burton set the tone for the trip. It appears the chaperones and kids took it from there.

Anonymous said...

I finally read the full report.

*Giant sigh*

A lot of blame to go around here.

But I also feel a lot of sorry:

*Sorry for Ms. Burton, who after years of leading trips, couldn't establish and enforce professional standards for herself and her chaperones. Tough spot, music teachers at the high school level depend on parent volunteers and fundraisers, or their programs wouldn't happen. Certainly she had a well established relationship with these parents ... that would make it more difficult to keep them in line. Also, note that the report implies (the words are redacted but the context is given) that there were 5 LGBTA students, as well as Ms. Burton and her wife. Never thought of it this way before, but Ms. Burton does have a point that if we allow LGBTA students to be in the same room, it is discriminatory for the heterosexual students who cannot be in the same room as a person of the sex they are attracted to. A pretty good perspective that could use more acknowledgement. Anyways, what about the 5 LGBTA students, who have lost an ally teacher? I feel sorry for them.
*Sorry for the parent chaperones, who didn't follow the rules, and have seen a program they've given so much to thrown into shambles.
*Sorry for the two girls, who were inappropriately touched, and didn't know how/when to report it. This type of boundary setting and testing when it comes to inappropriate touching is a given for high school (whether you think that is appropriate or not, it happens every day). For reporting their touching, they've seen their beloved choir teacher (who reported this incident as required, immediately) suspended, and probably have suffered social ostracism for it.

and finally

*I feel sorry for the boy. Two expulsions before his senior year, both to do with inappropriate advances to other students - same sex and opposite. Apparently, he has no clue where the boundaries are. With just one more year of high school, what happens to a kid like this when he grows up. I feel sorry for him and hope he can get it together.

A Different Handle

Melissa Westbrook said...

I wrote to District Communications today with some questions after I had read the Investigation report and other documentation.

Here's what the district said:

"All we can say is that the report speaks for itself and we are not commenting on specifics of it. Dr. Nyland has yet to make a decision about Mrs. Burton. And there is a separate investigation underway for Beryl Miller."

Now some of my questions could have been answered fairly easily (like how much did the investigation cost?). But I sent some questions onto public disclosure, noting that the Work Session on the Legal department on Thursday says that public disclosure requests are an issue. I told them that I regretting having to come to them but that Communications was not able/willing to answer my questions.

I also was puzzled that the investigator said Ms. Miller spoke with the male student's doctor and psychologist but only references what Miller said the doctor told her. I did not ask for what either the doctor or psychologist may have said to Miller (obviously not allowed under FERPA/HIPPA) but just if Miller had talked to the psychologist and had taken notes.

I also asked about whether the district might change the policy on room assignments based on sexual orientation (which seems to be an issue for the choir students and Ms. Burton). This was yet another issue that she used her own judgment on that the investigator called out.

ChoirMom said...

mirmac1, I read those two documents you linked about enrollment procedures for students expelled from other schools. Those don't sound anything like the process outlined in the report! I find it bizarre that the procedure seems to call for students who have been expelled to automatically be enrolled in Interagency and a sanction placed on their records, full stop. I don't see anything there that gives leeway on that. Am I reading those wrong? I notice the documents are dated 2011, and you said they were provided to you 12/2014. Any chance there are more updated ones than those? Very puzzling.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Sorry for the two girls, who were inappropriately touched, and didn't know how/when to report it."

Wait, what? I don't know these girls but if Ms Burton is the sensitive and sympathetic teacher that her students say she is, I think the girls could have come to her at school any time or at any time on the trip. Now one reason the girls didn't may be because Burton told the students to be good or field trips might not happen any more.

But the boy was being sexually suggestive and aggressive before the trip. As well, one girl did something inappropriate on the trip - with the boy in the room as well as others - so I'm a little confused about why she didn't say something sooner.

ChoirMom said...

A Different Handle, my kid doesn't even know for sure who the two girls are and he was on the trip. He said he could guess or probably figure it out, but neither he nor I thought it important to know who they are. Everything I have heard indicates that there has been no ostracizing of the girls. In fact, I have heard they are well supported by their classmates. That's just what I've heard though, if anyone who knows the girls or their parents have a different perspective, I defer to them. I do know that the parent group has made decisions that prioritized protection of the girls over trying to influence public opinion in favor of the teacher.

Anonymous said...

"Wait, what? I don't know these girls but if Ms Burton is the sensitive and sympathetic teacher that her students say she is, I think the girls could have come to her at school any time or at any time on the trip."

C'mon, none of us can honestly be so ignorant to think that all it takes is a friendly face for someone to report sexual assault. These were two teenage girls. Two children. They likely (and rightfully) felt a slew of emotions including embarrassment, shame, and self blame. There are grown women and men who can't find the courage to come forward after being assaulted. We shouldn't be questioning the girls on their timing, but rather be happy that these children finally put an end to their abuse that likely would have continued after the trip if they hadn't said something.

Also, notice how in the report it never says that the girls told Burton. It says that they confided in a section leader and he took it upon himself to inform Burton after "cooling off." It's possible that the girls were not entirely comfortable telling Burton or that they never intended for the section leader to report the incident which I imagine makes this entire investigation very traumatic for them.

-MS

mirmac1 said...

The district is to provide up to date docs in a PRR. Of course it's very plausible that, like Sped, departments are functioning without basic internal controls. I would not be surprised.

Assignment to Interagency or dual assignment makes sense to me. That way the student stays on the radar.

Anonymous said...

Bystander

"Ms. Burton stated that she has taken the GHS Choir on a number of overnight field trips to various cities throughout the United States and that on several of these trips students had behaved inappropriately. According to Ms. Burton, during a 2008 or 2009 field trip to Reno a couple of students were smoking marijuana on the last night of the trip. Although they were not arrested, the police scared the students. Ms. Burton said she notified GHS officials of this incident, which resulted in the students being suspended.During a choir field trip to New York City in 2010, a student was arrested for buying marijuana in Central Park. Ms. Burton said that the student was sent home. She notified GHS officials of the incident, which resulted in the student’s suspension. Finally, Ms. Burton said that during last year’s field trip to New York City, a student was arrested for placing graffiti on a
building."

I think that this is where the real problem lies. Pretty much every single out of state field trip that Burton has been to in the last five years has resulted in legal issues of some sort whether it be sexual assault, drug use, or destruction of property. If the New Orleans field trip was an isolated incident, I might be more understanding but at some point we have to hold teachers accountable for the adults that they are. CLEARLY Burton has issues with leading and supervising children and I think that it's right for the District to think long and hard about terminating her. How many times does a student need to get arrested/hurt before we call her judgement and leadership abilities into question? Do we really want someone who apparently cannot supervise children in a position which requires her to do just that? What's next, hiring Chefs that don't know how to work a stove? She's a high school teacher. Period. If she shows a consistent pattern of being unable to handle youth then she should consider teaching at the college level where she won't be held accountable for these types of incidents.

I'm not at all saying that Burton is a bad person or even a bad teacher. I've heard Garfield's choir perform several times and was quite impressed. A very talented and well trained bunch. However, parents need to be able to trust who is caring for their children at school and the District can't afford the backlash for a rebellious teacher.

Anonymous said...

One thing this discussion proves for certain is that, no matter what happens to Ms. Burton, many parents have incredibly unrealistic expectations of their kids, the schools, and human capability. Burton isn's SuperWoman and can't be in three places at once, stop drug deals, graffiti or pot-smoking, and for that, she shouldn't be teaching? Really? Shall we fire teachers when girls get pregnant, boys crash cars, and both sexes get drunk on Friday nights? Or should we sue our pediatricians for not preventing our kids from drinking? Or their Driver's Ed instructor? Or the police?

No matter what, it's never the actors or person in the mirror we hold responsible, is it? WSDWG

Anonymous said...

If students break the rules on a field trip they are sent home. That seems to be what happened in the previous cases. It appears that the teacher followed through on responding to the misbehavior of students. I don't see the problem with that. She didn't set up flexible rules to allow students to buy & smoke marijuana with impunity. That is different from changing the rules to allow students to be in opposite gender rooms.

-HS Parent

Patrick said...

WSDWG, I don't expect Ms. Burton to be Superwoman. It doesn't take Superwoman to not drink for five days, to discourage the chaperones from drinking, or to set up a place for students to socialize in the evenings that wasn't unsupervised in the students' rooms.

Maureen said...

I agree with WSDWG. The expectations some of the posters here have for students and adults are unreal.

Anonymous said...

WSDWG, you're conflating two types of teen misbehavior. When teens drink, do drugs, have sex, etc. on their own time, there is no way to place blame on their teachers, because the teachers aren't there. When teens do inappropriate things while under the supervision of those same teachers, teacher have a responsibility to know what's going on and to their best to prevent it.It appears that Ms. Burton DID do exactly that on past trips by sending the troublemakers home.

On THIS trip, she and her fellow chaperones broke the rules THEMSELVES, setting a bad example-at minimum-for the students with them. At worst, the lax rule enforcement allowed kids to be in rooms where they didn't belong, possibly leading to some of the groping incidents. Melissa spelled it out quite clearly above, and Patrick explained it well too. But I get it-you're OK with with the drinking and the lax rules. But I'd bet money that if YOUR student had been groped or a tipsy chaperone wasn't able to properly supervise YOUR kid, you'd be calling for heads to roll. All most of us want is for ALL kids to be as safe as possible and have the same rules to follow as other kids on other trips, not what the teacher decides she gets to change on a whim.

Really? Really?

Anonymous said...

Maureen - I think that it really isn't too much to expect adults to follow the rules and policies they agreed to when they volunteered to do something. What expectations do you think are unreal?

And for the kids? What expectations are unreal? I fully expect kids in high school to be able to follow rules on a school trip.

Just a question

Jet City mom said...

In my day, Blanchet was where kids went when they were expelled from public school.
With sexual assault cases in the forefront of news, including in SPS & Garfield, I would have expected school and district administration to be proactive regarding field trips & student safety.
What does it take?

Melissa Westbrook said...

MS, did you read the whole report? This behavior with this male student had been going on for awhile. It's unclear to me how much different the behavior they encountered on the trip was from what happened at school. So I agree with WSDAWG that everyone involved has a role in what happened.

I am also baffled why Burton didn't tell the parents that they could meet to talk in the lobby and not the bar.

But Charlie has pointed out the obvious.

There are both RCW law and district policies that Ms. Burton did not follow. She had her own reasoning for doing so but that was not her call to make.

Chaperones signed their names to a document on their responsibilities and behavior. If they did not want to follow those policies, they should not have gone on the trip. The trip is not about them - it's about a group of students under their care and guidance.

And, unfortunately, the students took their cue from the adult behavior which led to the male student seizing on the opportunity.

Lastly, the district had an employee who, like Burton, decided what she thought was the best course of action. I'm sure that like Burton, Ms. Miller was hired to use her own best judgment BUT within the law, policies and guidelines of their job.

The District certainly has some liability here but if people go off-script from their job requirements, there's not much the District can do except investigate and then enforce any consequences for going off-script.

It's not looking for scapegoats or throwing anyone under the bus - it's following thru on their own policies.

And yes, two wrongs don't make a right. Superintendent Nyland certainly got away with a huge error in judgment (from someone so seasoned as a superintendent) when he signed the Gates grant without Board permission. But this Board as well as past Boards have shown themselves weak when it comes to holding senior management accountable.

Melissa Westbrook said...

MS, did you read the whole report? This behavior with this male student had been going on for awhile. It's unclear to me how much different the behavior they encountered on the trip was from what happened at school. So I agree with WSDAWG that everyone involved has a role in what happened.

I am also baffled why Burton didn't tell the parents that they could meet to talk in the lobby and not the bar.

But Charlie has pointed out the obvious.

There are both RCW law and district policies that Ms. Burton did not follow. She had her own reasoning for doing so but that was not her call to make.

Chaperones signed their names to a document on their responsibilities and behavior. If they did not want to follow those policies, they should not have gone on the trip. The trip is not about them - it's about a group of students under their care and guidance.

And, unfortunately, the students took their cue from the adult behavior which led to the male student seizing on the opportunity.

Lastly, the district had an employee who, like Burton, decided what she thought was the best course of action. I'm sure that like Burton, Ms. Miller was hired to use her own best judgment BUT within the law, policies and guidelines of their job.

The District certainly has some liability here but if people go off-script from their job requirements, there's not much the District can do except investigate and then enforce any consequences for going off-script.

It's not looking for scapegoats or throwing anyone under the bus - it's following thru on their own policies.

And yes, two wrongs don't make a right. Superintendent Nyland certainly got away with a huge error in judgment (from someone so seasoned as a superintendent) when he signed the Gates grant without Board permission. But this Board as well as past Boards have shown themselves weak when it comes to holding senior management accountable.

Anonymous said...

Ah how times have changed..

This is from when the choir first started. Interesting read

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/New-gospel-choir-is-seeking-a-spirit-of-support-1129691.php

And to join the choir (pun intended) the woman needs to find a different school to work magic with a younger group. Whitman I think needs a choir director then the management and issues surrounding this might be less of a burden. I think that is some of the problem there her history with her kids does say there is a problem of respecting the boundaries and agreements made. She cannot even possibly inform parents that this behavior and such is not a good idea as it is a contract obligation not less a legal one.

She should do her magic in a much more controlled and easier to manage group. Middle school kids have their own problems but they are not quite as hard to corral as people think.

- Observing

Anonymous said...

Really, Really,

So by your logic - when kids do ANYTHING wrong when under the "guidance" of their teachers - its definitely the teacher's fault. So it follows that when teens drink, do drugs or have sex while not in school it is directly the parent's fault because they are under their parent's "guidance" when out of school.

So much for kids taking any personal responsibility for any of their decisions at any time.

That's not how we are raising our kids.

-HS Parent

Anonymous said...

HS Parent,
No one here is expecting for a teacher to have special Spidey senses that detect when teenagers are up to mischief at all hours of the day. However, it's really common sense in this case. Had the boy not been in the girls room like district policies mandated, this likely would not have happened. There's no simpler way I can spell this out.

Teacher Breaks Rule-->Student Takes Advantage of Teacher's Misplaced Trust-->Two Girls Get Groped In Hotel Room.

Melissa,
I did read the entire report and the witness statements. Of course, it would have been nice if the girls had come forward before the trip but I think we're all forgetting how traumatic sexual assault can be, especially if it's someone you have to see every day in class. I noticed in the report that the boy told the girls it was okay for him to touch him that way because he was gay. It's very possible that they thought no one would have believed them or that his advances were "harmless" at first because of his sexual orientation.

--MS

Anonymous said...

MS - You are absolutely incorrect that the sexual misconduct would not have occurred if the student hadn't been in a hotel room. It happened at the prior high school. It continued at Garfield before the trip. It occurred at multiple locations on the trip, outside the room. And the misconduct that finally precipitated a report - occurred on a bus. Location was irrelevant.

One thing that could have stopped this behavior was notification from the District to GHS that the student had been expelled for sexual misconduct. Info from the student's parents to the teacher/chaperones (about the past history and the purported need for meds) could have stopped it too. Earlier reports from the girls also could have stopped it. Following the room rule simply would have shifted the activity to another uncontrolled location.

Correlation does not equal causation. This fundamental misunderstanding has allowed the District to keep focus on the teacher's rule violations, when she had the least ability of any of the players involved, to stop the long pattern of misbehavior.

She broke rules. She didn't cause the student misconduct. The District should deliver a fair disciplinary decision for rule violations that did not cause the harm that occurred here.

-Exasperated

Anonymous said...

Exasperated,
If the girls hadn't been assaulted in the hotel rooms I might agree with you, but the girls were indeed assaulted in a hotel room. Were they assaulted other places? Sure. But that doesn't detract from the particular incident in the hotel room that shouldn't have happened in the first place if protocol had been followed. You can't just detract from the situation and say, "well he groped them in Seattle so it shouldn't matter that it happened in New Orleans because the girls should have said something"... what? Two girls were assaulted in a hotel room by a boy who should NOT HAVE BEEN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. We cannot ignore that. Maybe he would have done it someplace else or maybe he wouldn't have. It doesn't really matter. It all boils down to this: Under the supervision and knowledge of Burton, students were mixing in each others rooms against District policy. It was in this hotel room that two girls were assaulted.

Here's an analogy.
Lets say that District policy mandates that students cannot drink alcohol on school trips (which it does). One particular student has a history of drinking on campus prior to the trip. They also sneak sips of Vodka on the bus ride during their field trip. Now lets say that the student brings alcohol into his hotel room with the knowledge of every chaperone and teacher on the field trip. Everyone knows yet for whatever reason doesn't bother to say anything. Later that same night, the student gets alcohol poisoning in his hotel room.

Do the chaperones/teachers play any role/should they be punished?

--MS

Anonymous said...

HS Parent, you say "So by your logic - when kids do ANYTHING wrong when under the "guidance" of their teachers - its definitely the teacher's fault" No. What I said was that teachers should do their best to prevent misbehavior, and to not engage in their OWN misbehavior. And I do absolutely think that some kids get away with things when parents aren't paying close enough attention. That doesn't mean that kids are not responsible for their bad decisions, not at all. What an odd jump to make. Asking that chaperones and teachers simply do what they signed on to do means I think kids should have no responsibility? YOU'RE the one saying that, not me.

Really? Really?

Anonymous said...

MS just provided the exact correlation-based linkage I complained about on the earlier thread, which was quickly dismissed by MW and others. Well folks, there it is again.

(From MS, above) Teacher Breaks Rule-->Student Takes Advantage of Teacher's Misplaced Trust-->Two Girls Get Groped In Hotel Room.

Is that enough linkage for you, MW? Who needs evidence when we have deductive reasoning? To hell with trials, we pretty much know what happened, so lets get on with the hanging, shall we?

Far too many "educated" people in this community don't understand basic rules for gathering valid and espousing supportable conclusions. And I see it every day in these comments, so let me remind people of a very simple rule: What you think is meaningless, unless you have the evidence to prove it. Otherwise, you're simply an invalid, offering zero evidentiary value to the argument.

It all reminds me of a great line in a Michelle Shocked song: "She lives in a world so small, she thinks she's seen it all."

WSDWG

Anonymous said...

for gathering valid "evidence." the first line of para 4 should say. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

Jet City Mom-my husband is a Blanchet grad and I've met many of his classmates and some from other classes as well. Most are highly successful and came from pretty successful families. I haven't met a one who was a problem studentn sent there after being expelled from another school. Nearly all chose Blanchet because of sports, academics, the theater program, etc. My husband and a few others were sent there by parents who didn't like the public schools.

Are you saying that it was a school for "bad kids" and that SPS should have been suspicious about a kid who'd gone there? That really contradicts everything I've ever heard about the place.

Blanchet Wife

Melissa Westbrook said...

MS, I get your point and we all agree, the boy assaulted these girls. But you are wrong in saying that anyone here is saying if it happened elsewhere previously, then it doesn't matter in New Orleans.

It matters everywhere. But I am very confused number of times it happened before and during the trip.

Again, it's one in a series of things that might have stopped this boy in this particular instance and it's human nature to wish just one of those things had happened.

Your analogy does not work here because the girls did not consent (parallel to your analogy: take sips of vodka).

I think until we have any further news, we'll end this discussion here.